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Walking a Turtle (2021)

Project Brief

Taking a virtual walk with a turtle.

Description

Walking a Turtle is a virtual reality experience where players go on a walk led by a tortoise. Part game, part quantified-self wellness tracker, Walking is a farcical tool for resisting the attention economy. Players must endure an obstacle course with an unwavering, fixed gaze in order to be coached into a state of presence. Created by artist Jeremy Rotsztain, Walking references cultural critic Walter Benjamin’s musings on the flâneur as agents resisting modernity: “Around 1840 it was briefly fashionable to take turtles for a walk in the arcades. The flâneurs liked to have the turtles set the pace for them. If they had their way, progress would have been obliged to accommodate itself to this pace.”

As players are challenged to maintain their focus for longer periods of time, notifications pop up all around them. Obstacles they encounter include a fantastical mechanical-era mobile phone (with a carved wood case, paper scroll display and ringing bells) and a fictive precursor to social media called “Daguerogram.”

The experience takes place in a replica of the Galerie Véro-Dodat, a neo-classical Parisian arcade, built in 1826, with iconic features such as black and white floor tiles, gold trim, gas lamps and ornate ceiling murals. The arcades—covered corridors connecting the streets of Paris—were the architectural forbearers of shopping malls. Players wander into different stores typical of the times, including an herboristerie (an herbalist shop) selling herbs and tinctures and a photographer’s atelier with a studio camera, early photographs and a stereoscope. In the atelier, they watch a slideshow of stereoscopic images of Paris before and after Baron Haussmann’s dramatic transformation of the city.

Walking’s final scene is set in the Var region (Southern France); the original habitat of the Hermann’s tortoise, France’s only remaining endemic tortoise. Players witness the impacts of the past 100+ years of human development on this landscape and are confronted with the consequences of accumulated change.

The flâneurs, facing down unrelenting industrialization happening all around them in 19th century Paris, performed their protests with their mannered turtle walks. Within the currents of accelerated change, both digital and climatic, which we find ourselves swept up within, Walking draws parallels between their predicaments with our own. In what ways are we powerless to larger systems and currents already set in motion, and in what ways may we perform our protest?

Credits

Jeremy Rotsztain: lead artist
Alice Rotsztain: art direction
Ian Anderson: 3D design
Patricia Wolf: music & sound design

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Exhibition History

MUTEK Montréal. Montréal, Quebec. August 2021.

Project Specs

Format: Realtime software with virtual reality headset
Duration: 20 minutes
Year of Production: 2021

Tags

Walking, turtle, slowness, virtual reality, flâneur, flaneuse, Paris, arcades, Véro-Dodat, Walter Benjamin, stereoscope, game, protest, attention economy, 19th-century, re-creation, Unity3D

Stills

Walking a Turtle Walking a Turtle Walking a Turtle Walking a Turtle